Defenceman Alexei Emelin will be a healthy scratch when the Canadiens meet the Ottawa Senators Saturday (7 p.m., Sportsnet, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) but coach Claude Julien insists the Russian isn’t paying the price for his spotty play of late.
“Emmy is the extra guy tonight and I know he’s not having the easiest of times, but we need him,” Julien said after an optional morning skate Saturday at the Canadian Tire Centre. “He’s a good defenceman and I like him, but we’re rotating now and that rotation has to continue. We have to keep guys moving in and out, and that’s why we acquired the depth at the trading deadline.”
The change means Nathan Beaulieu is back in the lineup after one game as a healthy scratch. He’ll be paired with Jordie Benn.
This is the first of back-to-back games between these teams, which will play at the Bell Centre Sunday (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and the games will determine first place in the Atlantic Division. The Canadiens are one point up on Ottawa, but the Senators hold a game in hand.
“When you listen to the fans and you get the feel of your team and the people surrounding it, it’s an exciting weekend,” said Julien. “There’s no doubt we all know first place is in play but also when you play back-to-back at any time of the year, there’s always something that follows to the next game. It seems like a mini (playoff) series but, at this stage of the year, there’s a little more at stake.”
That little bit more at stake probably influenced Julien’s choice of goaltenders for the game in Ottawa. The Canadiens split the goaltending duties in back-to-back situations and Al Montoya plays on the road. Carey Price starts Saturday and the smart money says he’ll play Sunday as well.
Former Canadiens backup Mike Condon was pencilled in as the Senators’ starter, but Ottawa coach Guy Boucher left the door open for Craig Anderson, who is healthy after missing two games with a lower-body injury.
The Canadiens haven’t played since losing 4-2 to Chicago on Tuesday and Julien said it was good to have a day of rest and two good practices leading up to the weekend.
“We were coming off a 10-day road trip and we were glad to get a bit of a break,” said Julien.
There’s more good news in the schedule coming up. Sunday’s rematch is the start of a six-game homestand.
Photo: John Mahoney/Montreal Gazette